Healthy Essential Fatty Acid Balance Alters Genes, Protects from Disease

Thursday, June 04, 2009 by: Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor
Tags: fatty acids, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) Omega-3 fatty acids have been put to the test in a number of studies in recent years -- and the findings have provided strong evidence that having enough of this essential fatty acid (EFA) in the body is a key to preventing and even treating a long list of maladies. But why do 21st century humans seem to need regular doses of omega-3s, whether from food or supplements, for optimum health? Surely, our ancestors didn't need to pop fish oil pills daily.

The answer seems to lie in the fact that too many modern humans don't eat a natural diet like humans of long ago did -- and the unhealthy and unnatural changes in the typical Western diet over the past century have altered the balance between the two forms of EFAs, the omega-3s (found in cold water fish such as salmon and other foods including flax oil) and omega-6s( found in meats and some widely used vegetable oils such as corn oil). While both kinds of EFAs are needed by the body, some researchers have suggested that modern, meat-heavy diets have greatly increased omega-6s in the body while lowering omega-3s, with unhealthy consequences.

The result of this out-of-kilter and downright dangerous EFA imbalance is inflammation, a condition associated with autoimmunity, allergy, heart disease, arthritis, asthma and even some cancers. Now new research just published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry by a team of scientists from Wake Forest University School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School has come up with a biological basis for this diet-linked impact on health.

The study cites anthropological evidence that supports the idea our ancestors maintained a two to one ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids for much of human history. In comparison, modern day people in many Western countries eat a diet with an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio that has spiked as high as 10 to one. This excess of omega-6 fatty acids is converted into inflammatory molecules, causing increased systemic inflammation and a multitude of burgeoning 21st century health problems.

To examine the effects of balanced and unbalanced fatty acids in the diet, researcher Floyd Chilton of Wake Forest's Department of Physiology and colleagues developed an intervention strategy in which 27 healthy humans were put on a controlled diet for five weeks that mimicked the way humans ate in earlier times. The volunteers consumed a diet with a two to one omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. Then the investigators studied the gene levels of immune signals and cytokines (protein immune messengers) in blood cells that are associated with autoimmunity and allergy.

The scientists found that many key signaling genes that promote inflammation were dramatically reduced on the closer to an "ancient human" diet balance of EFAs when compared to a standard 21st century diet top heavy with omega-6s. A particularly important finding: a signaling gene for a protein called PI3K, which is a critical early step in autoimmune and allergic inflammation responses, was significantly reduced in the research participants eating the diet with the healthy EFA ratio. Bottom line: this is the first study to demonstrate in humans that large changes in gene expression are likely an important mechanism by which omega fatty acids exert their potent clinical effects.

As reported previously in Natural News (, omega-3 fatty acids have been found to be particularly beneficial for the heart. In addition to anti-inflammatory effects, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) web site states positive effects from adequate omega-3 levels in the body include anti-blood clotting actions, a lowering of cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and reduced blood pressure. These fatty acids may also reduce the risks and symptoms for other health problems including diabetes, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, cancer (, and memory problems.

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About the author

Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA's "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine's "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic's "Men's Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.

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